I’ve had the same slow cooker for probably close to 15 years now, so when I started looking at the latest and greatest models, I was pretty shocked. You can get a good sized, programmable slow cooker for a very reasonable price! Mine is manual and, while it still works, it’s old and worn and NOT programmable. It’s time for an upgrade.
With my own needs in mind, and with yours as well, I reviewed the best slow cookers out there to compile this list. I’ve got my pick for best overall, plus some of the best in manual and digital models. I’ll also give you my picks for some specific categories (instant pot, small sized, and budget).
Okay, so it’s a little spendy. But, I am in love with this All-Clad slow cooker. It’s pretty (not that that matters, but it is), it’s got a programmable timer and 3 cooking modes, and the warmer keeps food warm for up to 6 hours. Plus it can be programmed for up to 26 hours! Why you would need to have something in your slow cooker for that long is beyond me, but it sounds pretty fancy.
6.5 quarts is pretty big, but it comes in 4 quarts as well (good for smaller families). The insert and lid are dishwasher safe and the display is easy to use. If you have a bit to spend and you’re looking for a versatile, attractive slow cooker that will last you a long while, this one has my vote.
Best Manual Slow Cooker
Crock-Pot is the original, so it makes sense that they would still be putting out good products. This 4-quart is under $25, is a nice red color, and is a solid choice for a manual slow cooker. It has high, low, and warm settings and the insert and lid are dishwasher safe. It’s a very basic model, but it’s an excellent option for anyone buying on a budget, or who doesn’t expect to use it very often. (If you do think you’ll use it frequently, spring for a programmable one.)
Best Programmable & Digital Slow Cookers
Hamilton Beach is well known for making quality products and offering them at affordable prices. This programmable 7-quart slow cooker comes in at under $50 and has an average customer rating of 4.5 stars, making it a great, wallet-friendly option. The touch pad is easy to use, and it’s very simple to program your cook time. There may be fancier options out there, but this one is still a winner thanks to its simplicity, price, and high ratings.
There are a few different Crock-Pot programmable slow cookers that I do not recommend, but this particular model is a good option if you’d like to go with this brand. In addition to the program options, it features a lockable lid that is especially convenient for when you’re taking your dish on the go. At right around $50, this is still pretty affordable and the reviews are mostly good. Do be aware, though, one of the most common complaints is that it gets too hot — you may need to adjust cooking times.
Best Small Slow Cooker
A small slow cooker is great to have on hand for things like dips or even oatmeal. It’s also great if you live alone as it easily creates small meals with less space and less mess. This Elite Gourmet slow cooker is just 1.5 quarts, but it is very budget friendly and works great. It’s a manual slow cooker, so you just have the low, high, and warm settings, but if you’re using it for dips and things, this works perfectly.
Best Instant Pot/Multi-Cookers
While Instant Pot is the big name in multi-cookers, it’s not your only option! (Check out our full buying guide for multi-cookers here, or read on for a few of our faves.)
A multi-cooker is more than just a slow cooker; it also has functions such as pressure cooking, rice cooking, and more (depending on the device). Here are some of my favorite Instant Pots and other multi-cookers.
Ninja, best known for great blenders, is a solid brand that creates useful and highly-rated products for the kitchen. Their cooking system is no exception. This 4-in-1 lets you do all the prep work in one place. It does stove top cooking (so you can sear or brown your meat before slow cooking without dirtying a pan!), slow cooking, and steaming in addition to roasting/baking (temps run from 250-450°). Users do say that it gets super hot and that the steam vent can be an issue when used in cabinetry.
I plan on doing a lot more research on the Instant Pot models, but for this article, I’m going with the #1 bestseller. The Duo Plus does a whopping 9 different functions. Let’s list them out:
- Pressure cooker
- Slow cooker
- Rice cooker
- Yogurt maker
- Cake/egg maker
- Sauté and searing
Phew! That’s a lot of things. For many home cooks and busy people, the Instant Pot is a lifesaver. However, I do want to encourage you to make sure you’ll use the majority of the features before signing on. If you just need a slow cooker, you might be better off just buying a slow cooker!
What to Look For in a Slow Cooker
There are a few key features of a slow cooker that will be important to you, and a few others you may or may not care about. Let’s take a look at some of the things you might want to determine before you choose a new one.
Size: Size matters when it comes to slow cookers. If you buy too small, you won’t be able to cook the things you want or you won’t be able to make big enough meals for your family. If you buy too big, you may not have the cabinet real estate to hold it. Smaller sized slow cookers are great for smaller families or cooking dips or small dishes. Larger slow cookers feed a crowd.
You’ll see that most of the models I discussed above are 6-quarts – this is a standard size. Most recipes will be of this size, so if you buy bigger or smaller, you’ll likely need to adapt your favorite recipes. 6 quarts usually works perfectly for most families. My 6-quart slow cooker feeds my family of four with no problem (though with a teenage boy I rarely have leftovers anymore).
Temperature Settings: At their most basic, slow cookers will have a knob that lets you switch from low to high and sometimes to warm. Fancier digital models may even go beyond low and high and let you select temperatures. For many home cooks, simply having a low and high option is just fine. Warm is very nice, but I wouldn’t know for sure as I’ve lived without one my whole adult life and been just fine. Really, though, having a warm setting is immensely useful for holding the food until serving time.
Manual or Digital: Today’s digital slow cookers are pretty amazing, and programmable settings let you cook and hold for 20 hours or more. My recommendation would be to choose a digital model if you have a bit bigger budget and if you plan to use the slow cooker frequently. Manual settings are fine in my opinion, but I do think there’s something to be said for having the ability to control cooking time. It may not matter too much for soups or roasts, but here are plenty of things that you can cook that might be a bit more particular in how long they are at low or high cooking temps.
Timer: This is related to what I just said, but I’ll say it again: a timer on your slow cooker will ensure your food isn’t getting over cooked if you can’t get to it when it’s done. Having a timer to automatically set your device to warm makes a huge difference if you’re cooking things that need to stop cooking at higher temps after a certain period.
Shape: This one is a good feature to keep in mind because of storage space. The main thing to note here is that an oval slow cooker is going to be wider to store. If you don’t have enough room for a slow oval cooker, make sure you don’t buy one!
Dishwasher Safe: I’m fairly certain that most slow cookers are dishwasher safe these days, but it’s a good idea to double check before you buy. My recommendation? The slow cooker should have a removable crock, and the crock and the lid should both be dishwasher safe.
Additional Functions: While extra functions relate primarily to multi-cookers like the Instant Pot, there are some other options that some shoppers are into. The main one I’ve seen is the sear function. In theory, what this should do is sear your meat before cooking so that you don’t have to dirty up another pan to do it on the stovetop. Multi-cookers are more likely to do this within the cooker; the searing features on most slow cookers are simply crocks that can go on the stovetop so you can sear before putting it back in the cooker.
With slow cookers, you can create delicious dishes with minimal effort! There are few things better than arriving home to an already cooked meal. Let us know your favorite ways to use slow cookers in the comments!